Sinus Infection – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Sinus infection

sinus infection or sinusitis is an inflammation of the mucous membrane in the paranasal sinuses. It is usually triggered by viruses or bacteria and can be acute or chronic. Typical symptoms are a runny nose  and stabbing and throbbing pain in the forehead and eyes.

What is a sinus infection?

An inflammation of the paranasal sinuses is also referred to in medicine as sinusitis . The paranasal sinuses in particular are inflamed. A sinus infection usually occurs acutely, but under certain circumstances it can also develop into a chronic sinus infection.

Inflammation of the paranasal sinuses is quite common. In the case of an acute illness, the maxillary sinus, the frontal sinus, the ethmoid bone or the sphenoid sinus in the skull are usually affected. In the case of chronic sinusitis, the disease usually only spreads in the ethmoid or in the maxillary sinus. In rare cases, all of the sinuses are inflamed. This is then called pansinusitis or polysinusitis.


The causes of sinusitis are divided into acute and chronic causes and will now be examined in more detail below.

Acute sinus infection

sinus infection can occur after a sore throat or a cold . Viruses are considered to be the triggers, which cause the mucous membrane to swell over time and shift the focus of inflammation towards the entrances to the sinuses. A secondary bacterial infection then occurs. Streptococci, pneumococci and the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae in particular play a central role here.

In addition, existing nasal polyps , an enlarged nasal cone or a crooked nasal septum promote the inflammation. A diseased tooth root or inflammation caused by a pulled tooth is also possible as a supporting trigger. Rarely, acute sinusitis occurs after a bath or swimming, where pathogens in the water can lead to inflammation of the sinuses.

Chronic sinusitis

The causes of chronic sinusitis are mostly insufficient ventilation of the paranasal sinuses, which are then narrowed. A deviated nasal septum, nasal polyps and enlarged turbinates are also triggers. Aggressive bacterial pathogens linked to a weakened immune system can also be considered. Since the transport of mucus is impeded over a long period of time, the bacteria can lead to chronic inflammation.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Acute inflammation of the paranasal sinuses begins with a runny nose that does not subside in the usual time. Instead, the nasal secretion solidifies, the nose is blocked and cannot be blown out. Breathing through the nose is no longer possible, and the sense of smell and taste are restricted. There is also a feeling of pressure in the head and face that increases and becomes throbbing when the person bends forward, gets up from a seated position, or jumps.

Sneezing and coughing also increase the pain. The skin on the face may become sensitive to touch. Which of the sinuses is inflamed is shown by the areas in which the pain is located. In frontal sinusitis, the forehead and eyes hurt .

If the maxillary sinuses are diseased, the pain is in the cheekbones and upper jaw. These complaints sometimes feel like a toothache and can even radiate into the lower jaw. If the pain is felt in the temples and the back of the head, then the inflammation is in the ethmoid cells or sphenoid sinuses.

If the sinusitis is not treated, visual disturbances , extreme headaches or sensitivity to light can also occur. In addition, if left untreated, there is a risk that the disease will become chronic. In this course, the existing pain decreases over time, but the general condition deteriorates and performance decreases. The patient feels sick.

course of the disease

The course of a sinus infection can be positive if the disease is recognized and treated in good time. An acute sinus infection is usually treated quickly by the general practitioner. In the case of a chronic disease, removal of polyps or surgery for a crooked nasal wall could be an option.

Complications can occur in the form of laryngitis  or chronic pharyngitis . Also acute bronchitis . In serious and untreated cases, the frontal sinus can even perforate, in which case the frontal skin can also become inflamed. In combination with an inflammation of the maxillary sinus , the inflammation can break through to the eye socket. This sometimes leads to irreversible vision loss or visual disturbances .

If the brain is affected by the sinusitis, it can lead to meningitis , neck pain and brain abscesses. This can result in lifelong neurological disorders. Paralysis and seizures are particularly noticeable.

Various complications can occur as a result of a sinus infection. However, these only rarely occur with professional therapy. Without appropriate treatment, however, there is a risk of serious consequences.


There is a risk of complications from sinusitis, especially if the inflammation lasts for a longer period of time. It can also take a chronic course or start again and again. A chronic sinus infection triggers repeated acute flare-ups.

As a result, concomitant diseases such as acute bronchitis, inflammation of the throat or laryngitis also appear. Doctors speak of a sinubronchial syndrome in such cases. Another potential problem with sinus infections is their spread to adjacent tissues. For example, the pathogens can cause mild inflammation of the periosteum or serious inflammation of bone and soft tissue.

In some cases, the sinusitis can also lead to serious complications such as meningitis (inflammation of the meninges) or even encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). These consequences become noticeable through sensitivity to light, intense headaches, pronounced tiredness and irritability. If these signs appear, immediate treatment must take place in a hospital.

Children in particular are at risk of the sinus infection spreading to the eye sockets. The eyelids swell and redden. Antibiotics are given for treatment. It is not uncommon for an operation to be performed. In extreme cases, there is a risk of blood poisoning (sepsis), which can be life-threatening.

When should you go to the doctor?

A sinus infection usually disappears on its own with appropriate rest. However, it is extremely uncomfortable and a doctor can alleviate the symptoms. Persistent and persistent runny nose should be presented to a doctor. If there is also impairment of taste perception and pain in the face or head, a doctor is needed.

If the person concerned cannot clean their nose properly, they should seek the help of a doctor. Disturbance in breathing, difficult oxygen supply and nasal vocalization are causes for concern. The affected person needs medical help so that there is no acute condition or the development of various sequelae. Disorders of vision, sensitivity to light influences as well as concentration and attention deficits should be discussed with a doctor.

Toothache or a feeling of pressure inside the head are perceived as extremely unpleasant. Before taking pain-reducing medication, it is advisable to consult a doctor because of the severe side effects. If everyday obligations can no longer be carried out, if the person concerned suffers from irritability or an increased body temperature, a doctor should be consulted. Patients report a throbbing and pounding sensation in the head. This is characteristic of a sinus infection and should be clarified by a doctor. If there is discomfort in the head as soon as the person concerned bends forward slightly, this is to be interpreted as a sign of an existing illness. A doctor’s visit is necessary because if left untreated, the symptoms usually increase.

Treatment & Therapy

In the therapy or treatment of a sinus infection , both conservative methods and surgical interventions are possible. The acute sinusitis usually treated with conservative measures. In any case, a doctor should be consulted for further examination. In conservative treatment, decongestant nose drops have proven to be particularly effective. These can be administered directly or inserted into the affected nasal cavity with a cotton swab.

In order to alleviate the general discomfort and symptoms, such as the stabbing pain  in the frontal sinus, the doctor recommends or prescribes antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and expectorant medication (often containing ibuprofen or paracetamol ). Only in rare cases must antibiotics be administered. Supportive red light irradiation helps to loosen the mucus. Homeopathic remedies and acupuncture can also help. Many doctors also offer a sinus irrigation.

In the case of chronic sinusitis, an operation on the causes is usually carried out. The sinus puncture in particular has proven to be successful here. Depending on the cause, the operation either straightens a crooked nasal septum, removes polyps or reduces the size of the nasal conchae. The enoscope with microsurgical attachments is used as an operating instrument. The surgical procedure can be carried out on an outpatient basis in small cases or in the hospital for larger operations.


A distinction must be made between acute and chronic sinusitis. The acute form heals within a few weeks. After that, no follow-up care is necessary because there are no symptoms. The patient does not need any other medication or support in his everyday life. However, there is no immunity either.

The best way to prevent a new sinus infection from occurring is to completely cure a cold. Patients should therefore strictly follow the instructions of their doctor. The situation is different with chronic sinusitis. It leads to lengthy long-term treatment or aftercare.

Even lifelong therapy cannot be ruled out. Quarterly appointments with a doctor are recommended. In these, the general and specific state of health is recorded. This is followed by a physical examination to document the progress. Suitable methods are, for example, nasal reflection, imaging methods and a swab of the cold, which is then examined in the laboratory.

The doctor promises to prevent complications such as spreading to the brain or to be able to react to difficulties as quickly as possible. In addition, the question of an operation, which is indicated for certain clinical pictures, can be discussed. Cortisone-containing nasal sprays can help with medication. The patient receives further prescriptions for this.

Outlook & Forecast

Acute sinusitis usually subsides after a short time. It lasts about two weeks in 60 to 80 percent of those affected. Whereas around 90 percent of all cases of acute sinusitis heal within six weeks. The duration of chronic sinusitis, on the other hand, can extend over many years. In some cases, patients even suffer from the disease for life.

It is crucial that the causes of the chronic inflammation are eliminated. These can be constrictions inside the nose, for example. Complications of a sinus infection are very rare with timely and correct therapy. However, if left untreated, chronic purulent sinusitis can also spread to the adjacent periosteum and the bone and soft tissue. More serious problems threaten those affected if, for example, an eye socket, the meninges or even the brain become inflamed. With such dangerous complications of sinusitis, therapy in the hospital is necessary in most cases.

An acute sinus infection that occurs in children usually heals without any problems. However, if it has progressed to chronic inflammation, the prognosis depends on how effectively the causative factors are treated. However, without any treatment, sinusitis can cause complications similar to those seen in adults, such as the infection spreading to the meninges. However, this rarely happens.

You can do that yourself

The use of nasal rinses helps with a sinus infection in support of an initiated medical treatment. The nose can be rinsed independently using a specially developed rinsing device and a saline solution. Rinsing the nose promotes swelling of the mucous membranes in the entire nasal area. In addition, there is an improved drainage of nasal secretions. The pathogens are transported out of the nasal area by this process and can be excreted by the organism.

Inhalation with various remedies is also recommended for sinus infections It can be inhaled with saline, but also with chamomile . The process can be done with or without the use of an inhaler. Encrustations on the nasal walls are loosened, the mucous membrane is moistened and the evacuation of nasal secretions is promoted. Inhalation is a gentle process in which the mucous membranes decongest and pathogens are eliminated.

The popularly known lifting of the nose is not recommended. Since a runny nose is an indication of a discharge of the diseased secretion, pulling it up would lead to crusting and interrupt the healing process. Regular thorough cleaning of the nose is advisable in these cases. Too much force should not be used, since high pressure in the head and the paranasal sinuses is unfavorable.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.